My husband grew up in a middle-class home in Mexico. He attended private school and learned English, went on to attend a top ranked university, graduated with honors and a degree in industrial engineering, and worked for an airline. After the airline went through bankruptcy, Waldir applied to the MBA program at Brigham Young University and, upon acceptance, came to the U.S. on a student visa. He intended to return to Mexico after completing his graduate degree, but then he met me.
After we got married, we spent a few thousand dollars on application fees in order for my husband to apply for his green card (which grants permanent residency in the U.S., not U.S. citizenship). In the laborious application process, we sent the U.S. government tax records from both of us; tax records from my parents (who agreed to financially sponsor my husband if he cannot secure employment and provide for himself); medical examinations; background checks; proof of a joint bank account; pictures from our wedding and letters from friends who attended our wedding.
We submitted the final application and waited. In July, we were scheduled to attend one last interview, but U.S. immigration—via snail mail (immigration headquarters won’t contact applicants via email or phone)—canceled the interview without explanation. When we finally received notification of a new interview date, we’d been pushed back to September.
Desperate for the green card so my husband could start his career and support me while I work through my graduate program, we showed up at the U.S. immigration office and waited in line to request an interview on the spot. We were refused. I’d anticipated rejection, but I hoped I could talk our way into an appointment. I erroneously thought my status as a U.S. citizen and a graduate student might help us get an interview from someone. “We can’t do anything for you,” said the man attending us. “If headquarters canceled the interview, it’s done. You’ll have to wait for another letter,” he explained. Seeing my face—reddened and on the verge of producing tears—the man added, “We know the system is ineffective—I’m sorry.”
My husband–with two professional degrees, a fluent command of the English language, and a marriage to a U.S. citizen–couldn’t get a job. In interviews, companies asked the same question: You’ve got your green card? Not yet, he said, but I have work authorization. And it’s true; he had a card authorizing him to work in the U.S. for a year. Still, companies wanted the green card.
I think about the millions of undocumented individuals living in the United States. Waldir received his green card in October, over a year after we got married. (And he received two job offers the same day.) If getting a green card was so hard for a guy with two professional degrees who speaks fluent English and is married to a U.S. citizen, what can people in less privileged positions do to get by? How do they secure rights to live and move in this country?